Some fans approach football with near religious fervor, and Christian preachers in Africa have been converging on Gabon, hoping to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the Africa Cup of Nations tournament and send out a message for peace.
One hundred singers from seven Pentecostal churches lead people to dance at the Boulevard Triomphal in Libreville. This has become a regular event on the evenings of the group A matches that are happening nearby.
Pastor Imohi Peter is from Nigeria, one of several clerics from revivalist churches around the region who have come to Gabon for the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.
“We are living in a world of chaos, a world of confusion that needs Jesus, so what we do as a church is to pray and say Lord, bring peace to these various areas where there is no peace,” said Peter.
He preaches by the giant screens installed near the Boulevard Triomphal. After the matches, Peter and his church members counsel new converts and direct them to sister churches in the countries where they will return when the tournament ends.
Cameroonian evangelist preacher Mbella David says he is seeing about five new converts a day.
“… I would raise up stones to praise me,” he said. “Would you allow God to raise up stones to praise him? Then praise him well …”
Mbella David is preaching on a bus transporting football fans to the stadium in Libreville.
Passengers listened and some even asked questions, but not everyone approves.
Omar Bongo University of Libreville student Lydwin Nkemke says preaching is a very good thing, but people should know when and where to do it. She says shouting and praying in buses creates total disorder.
The Christian preachers are part of an effort called the AFCON peace campaign, an effort for religious tolerance and an end to conflict.
“It is very difficult to measure peace,” said Kenyan-born Reverend Kamu Stanislos, the main organizer. “Sometimes you work very hard and there is peace here and peace over there, but then when violence erupts, people remember the violence and forget the time of peace. To work for peace is more difficult than to stimulate violence.”
The sidelines of an international football tournament may seem to be an unlikely place for religion. But the pastors gathered here say AFCON is a crossroads. The event draws fans from around the continent, so what better place to get the word out.